Bloomberg News

Acid Attack on Bolshoi Boss Adds to Porn, Pimping Claims

January 20, 2013

Bolshoi Theater

The interior of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, which re-opened in 2011 after a $680 million, six-year renovation. Photographer: Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theater via Bloomberg

The backstage battles at Moscow’s fabled Bolshoi ballet have included leaked, hacked emails, pornographic photographs (also leaked), controversial firings and hirings.

But with the acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin on Jan. 17, the company reaches a violent low, comparable to the bloody fictions of “Black Swan.”

Assaulted close to his home in central Moscow by a masked assailant who threw a jar of acid at him, Filin, 42, will have a second operation on his eyes as soon as today or in the next few days. He has third-degree burns to much of his face.

The attack brought Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, to his bedside. While Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t commented, police said they are still hunting for the perpetrators and spoke to Filin. They have established that the assailant used sulfuric acid.

Filin himself, and most of his colleagues, believe that the attack was motivated by disgruntlement over his work.

“We are all in complete shock,” said the Bolshoi’s spokeswoman, Katerina Novikova. “It cannot be comprehended that someone would do this. This is not a business. This is a theater.”

The Bolshoi, however, is no ordinary theater. The privilege of dancing on Russia’s most prestigious stage has always come with an accompanying burden.

In the Soviet era, there was the overseeing eye of the Communist Party and the threat that artists deemed politically unreliable would be left out of sought-after foreign tours.

Party Escorts

In the 1990s, according to Anastasia Volochkova, who was fired in 2003 for being overweight, dancers were pimped out as escorts at oligarchic parties. (The theater has always denied such practices.)

Even the renovations that restored the theater to its Tsarist-era glory were beset by delays and allegations of corruption. The work took six years and cost $680 million.

When the doors finally opened in 2011, principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze complained that Bolshoi looked like a “Turkish hotel,” and moaned of windowless dressing rooms and an uneven stage floor.

“When I heard about what happened to Sergei I was shocked,” Volochkova said in an interview. “Over more than ten years, the current Bolshoi leadership has slowly ruined the theater. Each year it has got crueler and crueler.”

Many in the current troupe deny that the situation is as bad as the theater’s foes suggest.

Poisonous Atmosphere

“Like in any big family there are arguments and misunderstandings,” said Anastasia Meskova, a soloist at the Bolshoi who has worked with Filin for years. “We should always work these out inside the theater. That it has come to something like this is unthinkable.”

The poisonous atmosphere has taken its toll on the artistic side. Rising superstar dancing pair Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova left in late 2011 for the Mikhailovsky, an upstart theater in St. Petersburg that received funds from fruit magnate Vladimir Kekhman.

Earlier that year, the Bolshoi’s director Gennady Yanin resigned after gay pornographic photographs resembling him were posted online and anonymously emailed to staff and artists.

Filin, too, has had his e-mail hacked in recent months and messages posted online. He also reported that the tires on his car had been slashed and that he had received written threats.

Tsiskaridze, a Georgian who frequently appears on television, has led a campaign against the current management, leading to his almost total exclusion from performances.

National Reputation

While he wasn’t answering calls to his mobile phone, he told Moskovskii Komsomolets newspaper that he had nothing to do with the attack on Filin. He stopped short of condemning it.

“Such things have always happened,” he said, and hinted the attack could be because of personal difficulties. Novikova denied that Filin had any problems at home and said that work will continue as usual.

“It is not just Sergei’s health at stake, but the reputation of the entire country,” she said. At the weekend, the premiere of a new children’s opera went ahead on the Bolshoi’s second stage, and ballet rehearsals continued.

“We are finding it hard to eat and drink, but we have to rehearse, first and foremost because it’s what Sergei would have wanted,” said Meskova. “We are all stressed and we’re all waiting for the police and investigators to tell us who it was that did this horrible thing.”

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Warwick Thompson on London theater and Erika Lederman on London going out.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Walker in Moscow at shaunwalker7@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


Tim Cook's Reboot
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW
 
blog comments powered by Disqus